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Dairy distribution system described as 'preposterous'

Martha Hall Findlay may be an excellent choice as a spokeswomen for those parties interested in seeing an end to the supply management system of production in Canada for dairy poultry and eggs.

On Monday she spoke on the subject -- specifically dairy -- at an event promoted by the Frontier Centre, a Winnipeg-based right wing think-tank.

She may be a palatable anti-supply management champion because as an unsuccessful participant in the latest federal Liberal leadership race, Hall Findlay is not even a member of the most right-wing party in the country.

She has published academic papers on supply management and speaks convincingly about her belief supply management of agricultural commodity production can and should be wound down.

"The system we now have has been likened to a cartel," she said. "It would never be accepted in any other sector."

Hall Findlay wondered what the public reaction would be if the current scenario in the dairy industry -- where prices are set by producers themselves based on cost of production plus a profit margin -- were to be applied to the telecommunications industry.

Imagine, she said, if the federal government decided to let Rogers, Bell and Telus provide all of the country's telecommunications services and also let them decide what the prices should be.

"If you have a business that guarantees prices and profits that is a closed system, that's a good gig," she said. "And if others want to get in, they have to buy quota from Rogers, Bell and Telus. That would be preposterous. That's what we have in dairy."

Of course that's not the whole story.

David Wiens, the chairman of the Dairy Farmers of Manitoba, said among other things that scenario leaves out the whole supply and demand side of things.

Wiens said there is careful monitoring of the demand of dairy products so the supply can be properly managed. He said that attention eliminates destructive cyclical price fluctuations as well as over- and under-supply of product on the market.

The supply management system, especially in the dairy sector, has risen back into the public consciousness with the recent progress in the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with the European Union. Most Canadian farm groups support CETA but not the dairy farmers.

Among other things, that deal will allow the amount of cheese entering Canada tariff-free to double to about 30,000 tonnes.

Hall Findlay said that represents only about six per cent of the Canadian domestic cheese consumption.

martin.cash@freepress.mb.ca

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